In 1864, Union Gen. William T. Sherman and his troops began their destructive march from Atlanta to Savannah to try to knock Georgia out of the Confederacy.
In strongly Confederate Augusta, residents were terrified as Sherman closed in, with no way of knowing that ultimately the city would be spared. Refugees from invaded towns flooded into the city.
Churches and hotels became hospitals, and tent cities sprang up at racetracks as locals pressed every available space into service to house the newcomers.
In a new exhibit at the Augusta Museum of History titled Augusta, 1864, residents of Augusta during the Civil War tell of their own experiences during that trying time.
“Basically, we were trying to give the feeling of what Augusta may have looked like in 1864, what people were feeling in 1864 as Sherman was coming across the state toward them. The fear that they felt,” said museum Executive Director Nancy Glaser.
The exhibit is housed in a room on the second floor. Inside, Augusta’s historic building are represented through facades that offer an idea of what everyday life was like during the Civil War.
“Can you imagine what they’re feeling?” Glaser said. “And everybody in front (of Sherman’s march) is coming to Augusta, so you have all the refugees coming here, too. So can you imagine? Think of the Masters for a whole year. They were fleeing right in front of it.”
Through the windows of the train station are a train schedule and a currency exchange chart. At the mercantile store, patrons can window shop period shoes, bonnets and eyeglasses.
St. John’s Church was one of many churches used as a hospital, and through the “windows” of the church’s facade are a chamber pot, kerosene lamp and other items that would have been necessary in an infirmary.
The news building is represented in red brick, as it was in the mid-1800s. Behind the glass is a reproduced copy of the Weekly Chronicle & Sentinel, dated May 18, 1864. The original copy is tucked away in the museum’s archives to protect it from harsh lights and other elements.
In the center of the room is a case displaying period clothing. A blue, gray and yellow day dress, a black silk mourning shawl, a silk formal gown and a Confederate uniform.
Doug Linn said that was his favorite part of the exhibit.
“You have to wonder how comfortable the dresses were or the woolen (uniform),” he said.
Geraldine Rinker was also a fan of the clothing display and marveled that the material has remained in good condition all these years.
“I think of stuff that was 50 years old that we threw away from Mother’s attic that was not preserved. Squirrels got up there and probably other varmints. We just threw it away,” she said. “Somebody saved that. To think that they really saved stuff that long.”
Scattered throughout the exhibit, underneath the display “windows” and reproduced photographs and tintypes, recordings of diaries and letters and other first-person accounts are available at the push of a button.
“I didn’t want to do just another battle show,” Glaser said. “I wanted to do something different for Augusta. This is very unique to this region. That’s what I was trying to do.”
Glaser said the museum does not have a large collection of memorabilia from this time period, but Rinker expressed appreciation for the items that the museum does have, and the care that has been taken of them.
“Aren’t we lucky to have a museum that this stuff can reside in now, that people preserved it and donated it. Hopefully it will be here for the next few generations,” she said.